Devils swept by Caps as the regression continues

There isn’t much good to say about this weekend losing another two games to the Capitals and failing to carry over any momentum from the wild Thursday win over the Sabres. Indeed that win proved to be the only one during this six-game stretch of only playing Washington and Buffalo. 0-3 against the Capitals is understandable, albeit still annoying. Sure they’re a better team than us but you’d think we could get a lousy point or two considering all three times we were in one-goal games in the third period. 1-2 against the Sabres is inexcusable considering they seemingly can’t even score a goal against anyone else. Maybe if we weren’t under NHL .500 and sinking I’d say okay maybe there were some moral victories to be had in the two games, specifically in rallying back from an 3-0 deficit in the Saturday game to come within inches of tying it. I’m tired of tauting moral victories though, especially when too many key guys have stopped contributing or have been negatives from the start.

I’ve been pro-Lindy Ruff for most of the season so really the first thing I’m seriously gonna ding him on was from today’s game, specifically playing Mackenzie Blackwood for a fourth game in six nights today. I mean we’re only in the middle of a schedule where we’re playing 43 games in 76 days or some ridiculous combination of numbers. Maybe it’s 46 in 73, I don’t care. Either way are we just ignoring this kid had COVID and had only played a handful of games in the previous eleven months? Sure maybe he’s not tired now but you’re managing a goalie for three months, not three weeks here. Blackwood also hasn’t been as good this week as he was earlier in the season or right when he came off the COVID list, today was his fifth straight game of allowing three goals or more. Goaltending isn’t just about how many shots you face in a game, it’s about the mental grind of staying on point game after game. This isn’t exactly the playoff stretch drive either, even in a short season.

It would also be nice to get the disappointing PK Subban off of the first power play unit and give Ty Smith some run there. When PK isn’t accidentally hitting his teammates with shots, he’s missing the net entirely. Not that he doesn’t have plenty of company in the latter at the moment. I get you don’t want to overload the rookie but it’s only another minute a game since he’s already getting PP2 time, and the second power play unit has been better than the first in recent games, though neither really did well today. At least our PK for penalty kill actually made it through the weekend without allowing a PP goal. Baby steps, although glass half empty it’s discouraging we still managed to give up eight goals even without our PK unit subverting us.

Losing teams find different ways to lose every game, that’s basically what we’ve gone back to being in the blink of an eye. Yesterday we got rolled in the first period and spent the rest of the afternoon in a futile jog uphill only to fall right when we got near the summit. Ironically the spectacular breakdown on a breakaway goal from Jakub Vrana that put us behind by two in the third period yesterday might have influenced today’s gutless third period when the Devils – again trailing by one going into the third – for the longest time managed only one shot on net. Sure, holding the Caps to zero shots over that same sixteen minute or so stretch was nice but I’m sure they’d take the tradeoff of only giving us one shot on net for much of the third period when we’re down a goal. At least try to press the issue sooner than the last five minutes. The fact we had so many ‘shot attempts’ in the third only serves to underscore the uselessness of that stat. What’s the difference if you attempt shots that don’t even get through to the net? When you put pucks on net at least you can score, but having blocked and missed shots help nothing.

Of course having injuries in a short, compressed schedule doesn’t help either. Right when poor Nico Hischier finally returns to the lineup and starts scoring (with his first goal of the season on Saturday) he gets hit up high in the mouth/nose area with a deflected puck off a 100-MPH Subban slapshot late in Saturday’s loss. He couldn’t have gotten hit with a Mike Mottau quality shot instead? I might have to explain that joke so look up Bobby Holik’s comment about how Mottau couldn’t hurt a fly with his shot and you’ll get the reference. Of course with the quick turnaround Nico missed today’s game. Almost as if the hockey gods were torturing us, we ended another loss to the Caps with another puck to the head of a key player injury – this time with Miles Wood getting hit on the ear from an attempted Zdeno Chara clear…sorry, I can’t think of a non-rhythmic way to put it.

I could rag on guys like Kyle Pamieri, whose horrible attempt on goal late in the game with only John Carlson’s turned body between him and an open net is symbolic of his struggles. Nikita Gusev getting a couple of junktime goals become much more annoying when he fails on an open net early in the third period of Saturday’s loss when a goal there could have tied the game. Subban’s offense has almost completely dissapeared other than the odd assist here and there, and his defensive game which was never strong to begin with has been more subpar as the season’s gone on. I want to give Sami Vatanen more time (and some PP time perhaps as well) but he hasn’t looked good the last few games either. As much as I love Travis Zajac we need more from him with two goals and three points in thirteen games. Really though what’s the point of going nuts over any of these guys? Other than Subban none of these guys are signed beyond this year and Subban’s only under contract through next year. None are going to be long-term solutions.

Which is why it’s more imperative we get guys like Blackwood, Jesper Bratt (one goal in eleven games this season), and Jack Hughes – just five points in his last twelve games – either producing or back on the beam. Hughes did start the season well, Nico was coming around before his latest injury and Ty Smith has started the season consistently well, all good signs but if they’re gonna engender hope in the fanbase for the coming seasons all the younger players need do to even more and get us out of what’s already become an extended bad spell of five losses in six games. If there was ever a bad time for the Devils to get fans back in the building, it’d be this week off a slump where we’re playing our two NY rivals. Is it possible we get 50% of Islander or Ranger fans in the building for a crowd of only about 1000 or so? Guess it depends on how many season ticket holders bought off the presale and how many individual seats had to be sold after it.

I’m not really in full rant mode but tbh part of that is how little I’ve watched of the last few games. Plus as excited as the hot start got me I never fully bought in, proof of that was just how negative I was after the first loss of the string (the initial Sabres game last week) when we were still 6-4-2. I’ve seen this script before, which is part of it. 2013 we started 8-3-3 and finished under NHL .500 in a 48-game season. 2016-17 we started something like 10-6-3 and finished with another 70-ish point season. 2018-19 we dominated our first four games outscoring the opposition 18-4 but fell off swiftly and severely after that. I already wasn’t expecting a lot from this team, the 6-3-2 start was a bonus in a way but now reality’s hitting hard, especially given this schedule will not give us any kind of a mental or physical break this season.

This season is ultimately only going to be as good as our younger players make it, especially with younger players being the majority of the team plus the amount of vets on one year contracts that may or may not get sold off at the deadline. For all the talk about how this year was different than last year we may well wind up with the same conclusion in the end – a massive liquidation sale of expiring contracts at the deadline followed by some junktime wins after we’re well out of the race. If anything I’m getting too tired and jaded of this script to complain about it.

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